September 03, 2015

Understanding Labor Day's deeper meaning

Author: Andrew Watson
Source: NYSUT Communications
labor day

Monday, Sept. 7, is Labor Day 2015. We typically celebrate with picnics and parades, and by enjoying the long weekend with family and friends. Labor Day marks the closing days of summer: NYSUT members in our public schools and on our public university campuses are already hard at work while their students prepare to return to the classroom.

But Labor Day has a deeper meaning. In 1894, the first Monday in September became a federal holiday to acknowledge the long and difficult struggle workers endured for fairness and recognition in the workplace. And it's these principles that fuel unions to fight for fair pay, pensions, health care, workplace safety, weekends off and an eight-hour day. This struggle - led by unions - made it possible for a strong middle class to thrive and created the greatest workforce in the world.

But, today, unions are under attack - in the courts and in the political arena - as right-wing ideologues and moneyed interests attempt to undermine the rights of working people.  

The gains our nation's workers have made didn't come cheap and we will have to fight to keep them. So, this Labor Day, take the time to learn - and share - the history of the union movement and the obstacles it faces. It's also an opportunity to recall all the many benefits of union membership. 

Follow the links below for more information.   


"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them." Martin Luther King Jr., speaking to the AFL-CIO on December 11, 1961.   

"Every advance in this half-century – Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another – came with the support and leadership of American Labor." President Jimmy Carter .

"Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor." President John F. Kennedy, Aug. 30, 1960.